When the Annual Reminder Day demonstration came to Independence Hall in 1965, it was at a revolutionary time in our country’s history.
America was entrenched in the Vietnam War, and organized opposition to the war began picking up steam in 1964 — from draft-card burnings to marches to sit-ins.
The African-American civil-rights movement was also reaching a peak. Demonstrations were spreading throughout the country, including the seminal march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in which participants called for an end to harassment and intimidation of African-American voters, which came at the time of several high-profile murders of African-American civil-rights leaders.
While much of the direct actions, especially in the civil-rights movement, were taking place in the South, Philadelphia saw a wealth of demonstrations, with Independence Hall emerging as a popular site for such events.
“In 1965 at Independence Park, there was every kind of demonstration there,” said William Way LGBT Community Center archivist Bob Skiba. “There were demonstrations supporting what was going on in Selma and the African-American civil-rights movement. There was actually a sit-in at the Liberty Bell earlier in 1965 where they let them sleep over.”
Skiba said public reaction to that particular demonstration was mixed — information he came upon in the National Park Service archives.
“Some people wrote in saying they supported the demonstration and how perfect of a venue this is. But then another said, ‘What they hell are you doing turning Independence Hall into a Howard Johnson for hippies?’”
One of the people who participated in that demonstration was Kiyoshi Kuryomiya, the late local LGBT and later HIV/AIDS activist.
“Kiyoshi was active in the antiwar and civil-rights movements. Many people cut their teeth on those movements before they got into the gay-rights movement,” Skiba said.
While there was some cross-over among the LGBT-rights and other movements, the Reminder Day demonstrations had a decidedly different tone than many other actions of the time.
Organizers dictated that participants abide by a dress code, with little room for gender-nonconformity, and some marchers were turned away for dressing too “hippie”-like.
Skiba said the revolutionary wave that was gripping the country was directly related to organizer Frank Kameny’s vision for the Reminder Day marches — which aimed to communicate that gay and lesbian Americans were equal to heterosexuals and, thus, deserving of the same rights.
“One of the reasons that Frank Kameny wanted the demonstrators to dress conservatively was so they wouldn’t be mistaken for the demonstrators in some of these other protests that had been going on.”